Grognard Wargamer Thread!


On that note, I have an idea in my head for a wargame, and I want to know if it already exists: 19th Century General Simulator, more or less. You’re the general in command. You deploy your forces and yourself, possibly based on incomplete maps; where you put yourself is even more important than where you put your troops. Too far forward, and you might find your command terminated by enterprising artillerymen. Too far back, and you’ll have to depend on runners rather than your own eyes. Mix in Command Ops-style orders delay and confusion potential.

This came to mind either because it showed up in that Flare Path design competition a little while back, or because I’m reading a book of collected articles from William Russell, the first war correspondent, and I’m at present in the Franco-Prussian War.


There was a game from Matrix at one point about Napleon’s campaigns on the Danube that had a delay between orders being dispatched and received, and I believe the state of the map was reflected in the same way, so the current location of combatants wasn’t necessarily what was shown on the map. It reminded me of something Crawford talked about in his game design book about Galilean relativity.


That game is still there.


Just make sure you have at least a Pentium II 400 MHz CPU and 64MB Ram.


To me a random unit activation and random combat initiation bears no resemblance to what happened on a Civil War battlefield. If I want to play craps I’ll go to my local casino. I’m not buying the game because of that approach so I’ll say no more about it.


Ah, for me it’s actually a selling point.

I love random unit activation in board wargames as a way of abstracting C&C issues while keeping the mechanics simple and transparent, so I’m really happy there’s a computer version of this style of gaming (since on table top I tend to play solo, due to lack of fellow players) and it’s going on my wishlist right about… now!


I hear ya, but really, most of the ways we simulate command and control in wargames bears little resemblance to reality. Trying to take real-world complex systems and abstract them enough for an entertaining simulation requires, well, a lot of abstractions. To me, attempts to copy real world actions in an exact sort of way often ends up being less successful than some sort of impressionistic mechanic that delivers a more accurate result.

Random activation is, conceptually, fairly crude, to be sure. If done well, and I have not seen the Gettysburg game yet, it can give you an overall sense of frustration and confusion that is pretty accurate. Done poorly, I’m sure it ends up being like as you said playing craps. For me, it’s in the execution; by playing a game, particularly a small, non-monster type game, I’ve already bought in to a lot of abstraction.

Now, if this was billed as the ultimate Gettysburg simulation, I think you’d have a really strong point. Even then though I am afraid the vast majority of gamers would not want something where you had a realistic level of knowledge and control. Civil War generals were not exactly blessed with a lot of battlefield information flow.

I mean, there are games where you survey the battlefield with a telescope and try to puzzle out what the hell is going on, but AFAIK few people really glom onto this sort of approach as a game.


… do you have any recommendations?

As far as random activation goes, it makes a lot more sense (to me) in big theater-level wargames like the Ageod stuff than it does for battlefield games. Especially on computers, we have better methods now.


Scourge of War has a mode where you can play from the general’s saddle, as I recall.


No recommendations, as I find the sort of hyper command and control simulation games not my cup of tea, but as someone noted the Scourge of War stuff might be up your ally.

I agree that pure random activation is a better tool for higher levels of abstraction. As far as us having better ways of doing things, especially on computers, that may well be so, but I haven’t seen that many of them that I can recall. The problem is always the same as it has ever been–complexity doesn’t equal realism, and realism doesn’t equal fun. Finding that sweet spot is tough. If you do a realistic simulation of the frustrations of command, the gamer just gets frustrated; he or she doesn’t have the same pressures or need to get the job done, but is trying to have fun, and fun for most grogs means control, not lack thereof. Yet as we all realize, too, if you abstract stuff too much, there’s the danger of losing a lot of historical flavor and creating a situation that doesn’t resonate with the gamer’s understanding of what’s being simulated.

I grew up on board games in the era when they went from “here’s a counter with two numbers, combat and movement, with a simple odds combat table” to “here’s a counter with six or more numbers and symbols, and a whole page full of combat charts.” As a young gameer, I believed more was better; why have combat and movement when you can have attack, defense and movement values? Hell, why not range? Penetration? Games like AH’s Tobruk, where you spent more time figuring out the arcana of how much armor a British 2lb AT shell could penetrate than you did actually thinking about the flow of the battle were the result, followed eventually by things running the gamut from Campaign for North Africa to Advanced Squad Leader to everything in between. More data, more charts, more everything.

But all of this did not necessarily result in more entertaining activities for the gamer, nor did it really result in more realistic simulations, because warfare is ultimately about people, and people are damn hard to model.

Nowadays, I tend to gravitate towards more rather than less abstraction, though I do enjoy some detailed analysis stuff. But I like to focus on the decisions leaders might make, rather than micromanaging the minutia. I have never grasped the appeal of the Norm Koger/Gary Grigsby approach, though I have played many of their games. The idea that there is inherent value in modeling every rifle or machine gun in a division and adding up values to give the player a raft of data seems bizarre to me. I can imagine Manstein, say, or Bradley worrying about how may jeeps a division has or how many light machine guns are available…


Here is a blog post someone wrote about it:

Apparently Frank Hunter did a patch for it a couple years ago, and there is a map and counter mod that cleans it up quite a bit. I might have to install it and take a look.

Edit: I take that back, there is a 3.05 patch that was released in June. The updater gets confused with version checking and says it is up to date, but you can force it to install the update.


That’s awesome @TheWombat. I had a copy of TSS that we setup but we never did finish playing it. I did play the smaller games based on the same system that IIRC came in the SPI Strategy & Tactics magazine, but I’m afraid TSS was too big to handle.


Sounds like Gettysburg is buggy. :(


It’s virtual world immersion, just like day/night cycles in roleplaying games where NPCs have regular routines and do stuff while you’re adventuring in the world. Having the ability to know exactly how many Pz III’s 6th Panzer Division has, even if the game effect is minimal, increases the game world’s verisimilitude. YMMV


That’s something I like about Command Ops—lots of detail, most of which the engine takes into account, nicely boiled down to a few top-line numbers for commanders.

In more lightweight wargame news, Ultimate General: Civil War is officially released today. I played the last pre-release build last night, actually, running the Pickett’s Charge scenario from the Union side. The experience of battles is as good as ever, and I definitely noticed some of the AI changes they claimed to have made on the subject of exploiting weak points and building a more cohesive line. I ditched my campaign way back when I early-access-ordered because, at the time, the enemy’s battlefield losses didn’t count to the overworld, while your own did. After a particularly brutal sequence, I was all but tapped out and the enemy had troops to spare. They say they’ve fixed that, too, so I guess I should start a new campaign.


Oh, I get it that for some people (hence, the YMMV) this is good. It seems…odd to me, as very few wargamers aspire to be logisticians. And this sort of stuff is the domain of logistics professionals, not tacticians or strategists. There’s no real-world analog to someone who counts the numbers of rifles in a division to ascertain its combat power, in my opinion, but more importantly I just don’t see the point. I mean, I like minutia as well as the next person, sometimes, but in a game, all that data simply overwhelms, it doesn’t make decision making either easier or more engaging, because in the end there’s a huge gap between the perceived detail and complexity, and what the game engine is actually going to do with that data. You may think you are getting immersed in tons of detail that is crucial to the war effort, but in the end, it’s a bunch of numbers the computer is going to compare to another bunch of numbers.

And yes, all interactions are essentially number to number in the guts of the thing, but I’d rather those numbers be derived from stuff that is more easily and more relevantly grasped than how many jeeps a battalion has. I’m a big fan of morale, doctrine, leadership, fatigue, and stuff like that, which you can more easily IMO look at (if properly quantified and displayed that is) and use to judge a unit or a formation’s combat power.

I find that in nearly every game that has a ton of super-detailed data about weapons and systems in units I just look at a few aggregate values and make a fairly impressionistic assessment of power relative to the enemy. I’ve never found the overwhelming amount of detail in some games helpful to actually play the game.

Now, I do like that detail for futzing around and doing some historical simulation stuff, for sure.


I played some of Gettysburg, the tide turns.

First the bad:
-It is buggy, very buggy, and in ways it’s not really justifiable for such a simple game.
-They could have implemented a quick visual reminder of the experience level of the units so you don’t have to hover over them (unless I’m missing something obvious) and the combat predictor is too simple without showing factors, so you have to memorize the instruction manual, which is not super clear in the specific combat mechanics. Really a let down after the really good feedback and documentation of the WW2 games.

Then the good:
-It plays fast and it seems it can offer quite the variety in how the battle unfolds.
-The chit pull system seems fair (it’s mostly about the order you can move units around and when you can initiate combat, so you have to be careful about your maneuvering and can’t go replicating blitzkrieg tactics).
-Cavalry is modeled so they can disengage before an attack most times, but they can’t go into enemy ZOC, so they are used to screen the incoming confederate forces so they can’t mass their army too fast (because if they do, you are toast as the Union).
-Guns are even more interesting. Basically they are the most powerful unit at melee range, and can deal some damage against in the open, relatively close enemy units, but their long range reliability is limited. But yes, they are the best combat units in the game. At first I thought it was weird, but the thing is that guns can’t go into an enemy ZOC, like cavalry, so when they enter combat is because the enemy has attacked, and here it makes sense they are effective.
-There’s an interesting, simple morale system that discourages massing your troops too close, since chain retreats can happen.
-The confederate and the Union have different objectives. At the end of each day, if only one of them is fulfilling the conditions, they win, otherwise, if both are fulfilling the conditions (which is common at the end of the first day unless you are very lucky on the defense) the game marches on.

I’m happy to have paid 10 bucks for it so far, but yeah, beware the bugs. I am starting to save every couple turns or so just in case I get into a unrecoverable state.


Love that the amount of time it took to get this game to its backers becomes a selling point:


3 years is actually pretty good considering some of the time titles have been in development for Matrix/Sliterine. Shame that they shipped in a buggy state though


Not trying to pick a fight, but it honestly seems like an odd complaint to say “I don’t want to play craps” at the same time as praising a system that is literally “bag of dice” in terms of random result possibilities.

Civil War battles were plagued by command and control problems, such that commanders often didn’t move on time. Lateness in execution was endemic during this period. Random activation has been used in this period for some time to try and simulate this. There are other sequential activation systems (such as leader initiative) but some argue that this gives the player too much control. If the question is why the game needs to have this simulation element, the answer is of course that it doesn’t, but the designer is an accomplished Civil War game designer who has a series of random activation games to his name in boardgame form, and since this was designed and prototyped as a boardgame before being implemented on PC, I suspect the designer had this sort of lineage in mind.

Absolutely your right to not like the random activation system, and not to buy the game for that reason.